CMM Special Series: The Future of College Media (How Do We Get Students to Care More?) Part 11: ‘Do the Best You Can With What You Have’
In a recent farewell column published on Quartz, outgoing Daily Tar Heel editor-in-chief Jenny Surane at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wrote, “[I]t’s humbling to realize that the newspaper I spend so many hours working on isn’t really beloved by my peers in the same way. … My peers are interested in reading news, but they have no loyalties whatsoever about where it comes from. … Even some of my closest friends refused to pick up the newspaper I spent dozens of hours on each week.”
Her sentiments have been echoed in recent semesters by many students and educators connected to college media. Audience engagement is of course always an issue when undergraduates are involved. But the challenge of getting students to regularly check out their campus news outlets is exponentially increasing in an era cluttered with evermore competitors and platforms and bereft of old-media brand loyalty.
For this CMM special series, 20 current and recent top student journalists in the U.S. and Canada offer their perspectives, ideas and advice centered on a single question at the heart of college media’s future: How do we get students to care more about the student press?
The Future of College Media: How Do We Get Students to Care More?
Part 11: ‘Do the Best You Can With What You Have’
By Louis Oprisa, City College of New York
Early in my tenure as an editor, it hurt my pride when students on campus said they never heard of our publication. I wondered if it meant anything negative about my own work or skills as a journalist. But eventually I learned to accept their lack of awareness as a challenge related to my ability to recruit new staffers.
What I’ve tried to do to get CCNY students to care more about our news outlet is to reiterate to them that having their work published with us ultimately helps them, as well as the community they’re in. We provide valuable information to the public. And we give students an environment to strengthen their writing, photography, digital and design skills. Everybody wins. Or at least that’s how it should be.
Student media can often be seen as less appealing than taking an unpaid gig at a professional news site like BuzzFeed or Jezebel. One way to fight that is to make the platform through which your media outlet delivers content more dynamic and engaging.
Let’s be real here: No one is going to want to read student articles on a student site if it looks amateurish. If the site looks like it was done by a professional, or done by someone with the skill-set of a professional, then it might convince students to come aboard and really shape news coverage rather than being a volunteer coffee-runner.
Far too many emerging professional outlets take advantage of people still growing up and learning about the journalism industry. For example, I recently had someone try to convince me to write four stories a week for her, for a base pay of $100 a month. In addition, your growth at larger corporate enterprises is capped by someone higher up who you probably never see. At a student publication, by comparison, you have more control of what you do, you can take on more responsibilities and you can showcase your skill-set much more prominently and frequently.
The recruiting tactics for staffers also apply to readers. Every interaction you have with someone on campus is not only an opportunity to learn about them as an individual, but to learn about their needs and interests as a media consumer.
Do not enough people read or even care about your work? What do they like or care about then? If you’re not crafting content for them, who are you really creating content for?
It’s your job to figure out what is important and of interest to your community. You may not have an extravagant budget or top-of-the-line equipment at your disposal to create it, but you must do the best you can with what you have.
Check out other parts of this CMM special series
Part 1: ‘A Makeshift Umbrella During a Rainy Day’ by Matt Lemas, University of Southern California
Part 2: ‘That Hip, Instagram-Worthy Quality’ by Danielle Klein, University of Toronto
Part 3: ‘Initiating a Complete Culture Shift’ by Katie Kutsko, University of Kansas
Part 4: ‘For Me, Adaptability is Key’ by Ali Swenson, Loyola Marymount University
Part 5: ‘The Job I’m Training for Will Always Exist’ by Kyle Walker, University of Tulsa
Part 6: ‘An Edge in the Algorithms’ by Alex Bitter, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Part 7: ‘News the Way Our Readers Want to Consume It’ by Sami Edge, University of Oregon
Part 8: ‘Go Out and Play Scientist’ by Nizia Alam, University of Texas at Tyler
Part 9: ‘The Generation Changing the News’ by Emma Discher, Tulane University
Part 10: ‘Why We Report What We Do’ by Gary Grumbach, Elon University